Starting in 1931 – with a major clay court exhibition and continuing today with a top Men’s Indoor Challenger event in Dallas – Texas, Dallas and Houston in particular, has been a big part of USA tennis for nearly a century. Here’s a list of big events in Texas history preceding this inaugural WTA event.
River Oaks International Tennis Tournament in Houston may be the most famous Exhibition in American history. Starting in 1931 on Red Clay imported from Europe, then moving to Har Tru Green and now Har Tru American Red, this Houston event has now merged with the long running ATP tournament – the US Clay Court Championships – in 2008, which has a long running and unique history of its own.
The first major tournament in the Dallas area was the Colonial National Invitational, played in Fort Worth from 1962 to 1973 on outdoor hard courts – most likely cement, possibly with a layer of Laykold. The big 3 of the Aussies from the 60s – Emerson, Laver and Rosewall all won here – Laver 3 in a row and 4 out of 5 – along with another Aussie Newcombe. Arthur Ashe also got a victory here in 1965. This event was part of the WCT Tour from 71-73.
Thru the 70s and 80s their were two main professional tours for male players – World Championship Tennis(WCT) and Grand Prix Tennis. There were other smaller ones also, but these two battled for supremacy thru the 70s before the Grand Prix absorbed the WCT in ’77. They split in ’82, but joined again in ’85 before the announcement at the 1988 US Open that the syndicate originally formed at the 1972 US Open, the ATP, would form its own tour in 1990, becoming the one dominant tour for professional men tennis players.
The WCT Finals was a tennis tournament that served as the season-ending championship for the World Championship Tennis circuit. The Grand Prix tennis circuit had its own championship event at the end of the year simply called the Masters. The WCT Finals were held in Dallas from 1971 thru 1989 on Indoor Carpet – most likely Synthetic Turf, then Supreme Carpet in the 80s. The first year was held at the end of the year in November a week before the Grand Prix Masters, but was moved to the Spring most of the following years to avoid TV conflicts. Early on saw Rosewall over Laver in the first two finals, but after that there was a succesion of great American players of the time with an Edberg, Lendl, Becker and Borg thrown in for good measure. Brad Gilbert lost to Johnny Mac in the final edition.
Besides the great Houston clay event still alive since the 30s, the Fort Worth Invitational from the 60s and the WCT Finals from the 70s and 80s – the Dallas area had two other short lived events – first in Fort Worth in 1975 and 76 and then in Dallas in 1983 – both on outdoor hardcourts. (Most likely Laykold and/or Plexipave) Interesting note – Taylor Dent’s Dad, Phil, lost in the final here in 1976.
There has also been two popular Challenger events in the past decade – one that’s still played in the spring. The Lubbock Challenger was played from 2005-2008 on an outdoor Decoturf II hard court in September. Lubbock is not that far from New Mexico and 100% in the plains with dry hot air all around – in other words its fast. Big servers like Bobby Reynolds and Querry did well here and the last year was a serve fest as Isner beat Dancevic, which pretty much sums up late summer tennis on a Deco court in Lubbock, Texas.
The other Challenger has a longer history and is still going on – at first in early February, but last year moved to late Feb. The Dallas Indoor Challenger on plexipave started in 2001, playing fast but fair – big hitting baseliners, Sa, Nestor, Tursonov, Verkerk(remember him), Gimmelstob, Kendrick, Morrison, Becker and Delic have done well here. For some reason the tournament went outdoors on the plexipave in 09 with Sweeting beating Ram and Evans from the US. In 10 it went back indoors, but they definitely made the plexipave more gritty and conducive to the baseline counterpunchers, though the first year of this change produced two big hitters in the final in Sweeting and Ball, though the weaker serving, more defensive Sweeting acually won, defending his title, and giving evidence of a slower surface. This year average serving, but quick counterpunchers Schuettler, Bogomolov, Kuznetsov and Ebden all made the semis and Bogmolov beat Schuettler in the final – all with a whopping average of about 3 aces per match – yet another reasonably quick surface goes by the wayside.
Last but not least is the one and only women’s event of any note in Texas and it was a big one – the first-ever tournament on the professional women’s circuit, which would eventually become the WTA Tour, held in Houston from 1970 till 1984 on Indoor Carpet and 1985 to 1995 on Clay Courts, most likely the green Har Tru. In 1971, the event served as the series Championships of the inaugural Virginia Slims Tour. Navratilova won 4 straight, 6 over all, while Chris Evert won 3 straight, 5 overall, Seles 3, Billie Jean 2.
Well, the WTA is back in Texas, but this time in the Dallas area – actually Grapevine to be correct, Northeast of Dallas, Northwest of Fort Worth, and directly to the right of Grapevine lake. This tournament was a last second addition to the 2011 schedule – actually it was on the calender originally, off, then on again. There are problems with the venue (supposedly going back to Navratilova days) and of course the heat – bad enough in September in Lubbock, let alone August! It seems like a rush job – the whole drama has surprisingly been on a msg board at a site called MariaSharapova. Some interesting insight into Texas and the way things work down there.
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